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The Top 6 Jazz Albums of all time

posted by Kevin Lannister

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After all, how can we associate vocal songs like Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a wonderful world’ with the same music from Miles Davis’ ‘Bitches Brew’? Aren’t they two totally different genres of music? The short answer is no.

Jazz is a very broad genre that encompasses a wide range of sub genres as well as something called fusion genres. If that wasn’t difficult enough to wrap your head around, jazz music also varies considerably based on regions which can consist of different countries or even just different regions within a single country.

There is vocal jazz and instrumental, both of which feature a fairly large variety of musical instruments from the quintessential trumpets and saxophones to electric guitar, organ and drums. There’s jazz intended to soothe your soul and transport you into a state of utter bliss, and there’s jazz intended to remind you of the really weird trips that some of you probably experienced back in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

During the 1950s and 1960s modern jazz became a widely recognized part of American culture. As a musical form, it was radically changed in the 1940s by the bebop experiments of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and other musicians who were playing at clubs in New York. By the 1950s, their music began to reach a wider audience through recordings, which introduced many other musicians to the new style.

Since the nineteen-seventies, jazz has been branching out in so many directions that you would need to list at least another hundred recordings, by the likes of Steve Coleman, Stanley Jordan, Joe Lovano, Jacky Terrasson, John Zorn, David Murray, Avishai Cohen, Béla Fleck, Eliane Elias, Roy Hargrove, Dave Douglas, Matthew Shipp, Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Fat Kid Wednesdays, and many, many others.

There is a suggestion below of the dazzling scope of contemporary jazz, but the focus is on the classic jazz that is Schaap’s specialty. Jazz has had a major influence on most popular music genres in the 20thcentury — rock, hip-hop, Latin… Having an understanding of jazz will give a music connoisseur a deeper appreciation of whatever their favorite genre happens to be.

Jazz music perfectly encapsulates the American ideal of collaboration mixed with individuality, and its history is really the history of the country. Born from the music of African-American slaves, it intertwines with so many different facets of modern American life – movies, dance, art, literature, and of course, race. Thus, an understanding of jazz will provide the student of history a fascinating window into 20th century America.

There’s definitely a masculine ethos that underlies jazz. Its emphasis on the solo and improvisation requires a performer to embrace risk, and adds an element of palatable bravado to the music. What’s more, while jazz is certainly collaborative, it’s imbued with a competitive spirit as well.

Jazz musicians of the past often tried to one-up each other in virtuosity and in moving the music in brand new directions. Piano players in 1920’s New York would often muster for rousing back-and-forth “battles,” each man trotting out his best stuff during late night cutting sessions. These kinds of competitions in musical mastery continue today, even taking the popular form of the piano bar that has become so trendy in the last few years.

Columbia was the first record label to introduce album covers, which were invented by Alex Steinweiss who joined the newly formed label as an art director in 1939. Steinweiss designed several hundreds of covers before he left in the early 1950s. Columbia was recording both classical and jazz musicians, the latter playing in traditional genres such as Dixieland, boogie- woogie, and swing.

Now let’s see the 6 best jazz albums from last to first:


6. Charles Mingus: Ah Um

Charles Mingus is the godfather of the upright bass, and in 1959, he put out Ah Um, which many consider to be a masterpiece and cemented his status as a legendary composer. Charles combined elements of gospel and blues

The opening track, “Better Get It Into Your Soul,” is not just a ruckus jubilation; it’s a command — the driving brass, the dixie-land rapture and the voice calling out in joy — to stop doing whatever you’re doing and take into your heart and body this music. It’s a roller coaster ride through fast and slow tempos, cacophony and perfect harmony, and a touch of madness.


5. Miles Davis: Kind of Blue

I can still remember the first time I heard Kind of Blue. I was 17, and I was driving my Subaru Legacy Wagon in the rain. I drove the car to my grandparent’s house, and put it on. It was only about a five-minute drive, but I ended parked outside of their house, the windshield wipers swatting away rain — the album blaring. I sat in the driveway until the album ended, and, well, music was never the same for me.

It’s a composition, released in 1959, that is often considered the definitive jazz album. Honestly, there are some jazz purists who probably would die if they found out our generation was unfamiliar with it.

Just pay attention who was featured: Coltrane, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb. If you’re about to go sky diving, and you’re not sure if you’re going to survive, play this album on the car ride over. Why is it so great? Let’s not try to put it into words. It might be something unspeakable.


4. Dexter Gordon: Our Man in Paris

Another Blue Note classic and a prime example of bebop. After the beginning of WW2 many black musicians settled in Europe and so did Dexter Gordon for what would be a dozen-year stay. On Our Man In Paris, he masterfully covers iconic jazz standards backed by pianist Bud Powell, drummer Kenny Clarke and French bassist Pierre Michelot. Great for all occasions.


3. Clifford Brown and Max Roach: Study in Brown

Clifford Brown teamed up with Max Roach in 1954 via Dizzy Gillespie’s recommendation. They were quickly recognized as one of the best groups in contemporary jazz and Brown as a major trumpeter and composer. In 1956, Brown and pianist Richie Powell were killed in a road accident, making Study in Brown the Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet’s only album.


2. Catherine Marie Charlton: Maiden’s Voyage

This album’s August 7, 2015 release rises above labels, styles, chord progressions, and who played with whom to reach into the listener’s soul with an empathetic spirit. Mostly classical in feel —Catherine Marie Charlton‘s origins as a pianist — the album remembers the jazz in small, quiet, quality doses.

Flugelhornist Jeff Oster gently turns those “Autumn Leaves” into memories, Charlton herself accomplishes a miraculous feat on the spare and narrow “All That I Feel,” drenching the heart with healing classical music.

The Grammy voters, and perhaps the world as a whole, will always have the patience to sit and wait for Charlton’s Maiden’s Voyage to speak quietly to their soul or quiet their spirits.


1. Lawson Rollins: Traveler

This February 17, 2015 release combines an easy smooth jazz flow with global moods in original compositions that conjure up a wanderlust for exotic parts unknown. An international, contemporary jazz star, Lawson Rollins rolls up his sleeves for his fifth album to bring places like Madrid, Berlin, Paris, and the Bayou to life from sense memory.

Ironically, the most heartfelt song remains, “Journey Home,” where the global guitarist never leaves the vast imagination of his own “state of mind… For me, it’s the most fully expressive composition on the album and one that really captures in music my feelings about homecoming in the larger sense, not just returning to one’s physical house.”

Thank you for reading. Our next article will be about the best jazz singers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Lannister (see all articles)

Hello, I'm Kevin. If you like my articles, please subscribe to my notifications emails.

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